This exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum entitled Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection will explore around 100 objects from or inspired by the jewellery traditions of the Indian subcontinent, drawn from a single private collection formed by Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani. The objects range from precious stones of the kind collected by Mughal Emperors in the 17th century to modern Indian jewellery of the present day.
Highlights include an Indian turban jewel made for the Maharaja of Nawanagar set with large diamonds; unmounted precious stones including a Golconda diamond given to Queen Charlotte by the Nawab of Arcot, South India in 1767; Mughal jades such as a jade-hilted dagger that belonged to the 17th-century emperor Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal; a jewelled gold tiger’s head finial from the throne of the famed Tipu Sultan of Mysore; pieces from the collections of the Nizams of Hyderabad who possessed legendary wealth; and renowned jewels from the early 20th century by Cartier. There will also be contemporary pieces made by JAR of Paris and Bhagat of Mumbai which combine Mughal inspiration and Art Deco influences.
The exhibition is arranged in sections exploring the different elements of evolving styles and techniques. The first section called The Treasury illustrates that the elites of India since ancient times collected and were fascinated by precious gems. Diamonds, pearls, sapphires, emeralds and rubies were considered the most important gems and the Mughal emperors in the late 16th- and early 17th-century followed the tradition of interest in gems. However, the Mughals reflected their own Iranian ancestry by making red spinels their most valuable stone.
The section on The Court showcases how precious objects owned by the Mughal emperors played an important part in court ceremonies, when Mughal influence declined these trappings of power were taken up by other royal houses including Tipu Sultan of Mysore. One of the most important techniques developed in the 16th century was when goldsmiths began to set precious stones in 24 carat gold or kundan and began to add enamel to the back of ornaments. These high specialised skills have been influential in Indian jewellery and a series of films show and explain Indian jewellery making techniques such as enamelling and ‘kundan’.
The 19th and 20th centuries saw The Age of Transition when the influence of the West and especially the British began to take effect, open settings which allowed light to shine through cut diamonds and emeralds became popular and European motifs began to appeared in traditional jewellery. This carried on into the 20th century, however the influence was not all one way, the section on Modernity illustrate that Indian forms were reinterpreted by the famous house of Cartier and individuals such as the Parisian designer Paul Iribe. Using the Indian influence in Art Deco designs became very popular especially the use of Sapphires and Emeralds.
In the final section Contemporary Masters explores the way that the cross fertilization of influences have led to Paris-based JAR echoing Mughal architectural features while Bhagat of Mumbai selects old-cut diamonds or sapphires as the centrepiece of new designs which often show the influence of Art Deco.
This fascinating exhibition will appeal to anyone with an interest in precious stones and the influence of jewellery traditions of the Indian subcontinent. The incredible wealth of the Mughal emperors allowed the commissioning of remarkable decorative pieces which were used to advertise their power and prestige. The decorative style of the period still influences Indian craftsmen and women to the present day. More recently influences have passed between India and the West to create objects that reflect the tastes of both.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
If you would like further information or buy a ticket, visit the V & A website here
Admission £10 (concessions available). V&A Members go free.
The exhibition is part of V&A India Festival, a series of exhibitions,activities and events in Autumn 2015 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Nehru Gallery of Indian Art at the V&A
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